This week, as this nation’s patriots celebrated July 4th, and this country’s ‘independence and freedom for all”, we remember that when the declaration was adopted on July 4th, 1776, African-Americans were enslaved and were considered 3/5 of a human being and Native Americans had been brutally decimated about three hundred years prior.
But on this July 4th, hundreds of independent media makers, media activists and social justice organizers were celebrating our own independence — from corporate media. Coming off the heels of the Allied Media Conference (AMC) in Detroit, Michigan just last week, I am inspired and reminded that another media is possible. Hundreds of us converged at the AMC to showcase, dialogue and build together –this is proof that a media infrastructure created and controlled by the 99% is happening.
From digital to analog media, silk screening to poetry, from performance art to dance, it was beautiful to see how our communities most directly impacted by economic and racial inequalities are telling our own stories, from our own voice – unfiltered – on our own terms. There were over twenty groups from The Media Action Grassroots Network Members (MAG-Net) in attendance who led workshops on media policy, youth media, cultural production, independent media, and community radio. Members from groups organizing in the frontlines like Iraq Veterans Against the War, Afghans for Peace, Restaurant Opportunities Center-United, Vermont Workers Center, Migrant Justice, and FIERCE – just to name a few – showcased their own media and cultural work created to advance their own work and as tool of empowerment and self-determination. In many cases, these communities created their own art, culture and media – in response to the misrepresentation of their issues by the corporate media- understanding the need to tell their own stories.
Not a Dry Eye in the Room
On a Sunday afternoon, during the conference, I was literally brought to tears when a young African American female veteran talked about the deep pain of being an open lesbian in the military and experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), before “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was recently repealed. She sat in the back of the room during this powerful session led by members of Iraq Veterans Against the War and Under the Hood Café and Outreach Center (A GI Resistance Coffeehouse in Killeen Texas across from the largest military base in the U.S.). We all watched videos and listened to the stories of veterans and active duty soldiers who are rejecting the wars against Afghanistan and Iraq and are speaking out against the war, something you never hear about in the corporate media (controlled by the 1% that is waging these wars on “Global Terror”). But the session also highlighted how veterans are creating own media, poetry, art and culture as a form of resistance and healing from, PTSD, military sexual trauma and all other the traumas of related to war. At the end of the session, this same young woman bravely stood up and asked to recite a poem she had just written about her own experiences. There was not a dry eye in the house.
The same session also shed light on the work of Afghans for Peace, an international group that led the historic march against NATO in Chicago back in May. Their voices have also been blacked out of the corporate media. This session lifted up their dynamic leadership, as directly affected civilians of these wars and as organizers in this movement for peace and justice. In addition they showed a video they produced that put out a counter-narrative to the corporate media’s media black out of Afghan voices.
As we know, we must battle the corporate media systems on all fronts. One important way we can do this is through creating our own stories and creating our own independent media outlets, but the other is to fight bad media policies being put forth by the million dollar corporate media industry that only benefits the 1%.
Media Policy for Love and Justice
MAG-Net along with Free Press and People’s Production House organized the Media Policy for Love & Justice Track this year at the AMC. Our track featured ten sessions and workshops that tackled issues which included: the high costs of prison phone calls, the lack of wireless and mobile phone protections, community broadband networks, and popular education tools and games for organizing around media policy.
The “Prison Phone Justice Campaign: The Right to Call Home” session was led by myself, and CMJ’s Steven Renderos, along with Holly Cooper, law professor at University of California-Davis and Paul Wright of Prison Legal News (PLN). Holly provided a sobering overview of the lack of communication and phone access conditions for immigrants in detention centers across the country. Holly pointed out the significance of phone calls as an instrumental way for detainees to access free legal assistance and connect to the outside world. Paul provided some important research that PLN had been doing for the past few years that shows that over 40 states still receive kickbacks from phone companies, that keep the phone rates as high as $10 for one $15 minute phone call to loved ones in prison in states like Alabama. Steven capped off the session with personal stories from loved ones and a call to action to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). On the spot, session participants tweeted and called the FCC asking them to grant the Wright Petition that would help lower rates of prison phone calls nationwide.
MAG-Net Anchors present at the AMC and making a big splash included Media Mobilizing Project, Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center and People’s Production House.
Finally, it’s only proper to polish off this blog off with this….
Words from a Pioneer Media Justice Fighter – Frederick Douglas
Thanks to independent media publications like The Nation who has been speaking truth to power since 1865, contributor Dave Zirin reminded us of the chilling words of a true media justice fighter and the publisher of the abolitionist paper, “The North Star”. Frederick Douglas delivered his infamous speech on July 5th, 1852, ‘What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?’ by Frederick Douglass.“ His powerful words are just as palpable and relevant as they were over one hundred years ago, “My subject, then fellow-citizens, is AMERICAN SLAVERY. I shall see, this day, and its popular characteristics, from the slave’s point of view…. Whether we turn to the declarations of the past, or to the professions of the present, the conduct of the nation seems equally hideous and revolting. America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”
The words of Frederick Douglas and the poem recited by the young veteran woman from that IVAW workshop inspire me in the most visceral way – with chills, anger and passion for justice – this is why our media justice work is a life and death issue.